...at games, that is. My youngest child (age seven) is on some kind of massive board game bender right now. We don't have anything Hallmark-y like an actual Family Game Night or anything, but we do have numerous bookshelves, and at least one of those shelves is jam-packed with games. As the kids have aged, the selection has improved. I will be a happy man indeed, for example, if I never have to sit through another round of Candyland ever, ever again, and my eldest's much-loved Toy Story Monopoly Junior is buried in the back of the closet where it will hopefully remain out-of-mind until the heat death of the sun.
Gradually, gradually, we have been able to replace these games of chance with more strategic and less luck-based fare. Mancala is a great one, because the rules are dead simple, and it contains a good mix of surprise and strategy (sometimes with directed help from dad. "I'm about to take these pieces unless you move them...") I know it gets disparaged for being the token "wacky" card game, but all my kids honed their ruthlessness to a fine edge playing endless two-player hands of Uno during sibling soccer games. We pulled Sharp Shooters out of storage recently, which is basically Yahtzee with more visual scoring and the pleasure of being responsible for sixteen dice. And we've even been playing Sorry! quite a bit, once I learned that it goes from a boring luck-of-the-draw game to a ruthless slapdown simply by dealing out a small hand of cards to every player. It was a revelation. Castle Keep is quick and easy, when the dog doesn't decide to lay down in the middle of the playing space. There's little want for unplugged entertainment at our house.
When any of the kids seem to be having trouble sleeping, my wife and I joke -- not untruthfully -- that they must be in the middle of learning something. We saw this when they were infants, discovering their hands, and rolling, and learning to crawl. We saw it when they were walking, and "talking" with us via baby signs (yes, we are those parents), and we see it now and then when they're mastering the bigger concepts: multiplication, vocabulary for their Spanish class, some new piano piece. You can practically hear the gears turning in their little heads.
With the exception of my 5am NaNoWriMo ritual of me + typewriter + dog + weaponized coffee, I have been sleeping soundly. Not a peep from the kids at all, which is why this sudden turn toward games and gaming has caught me off guard. We've been spending hours lately, moving tokens, dealing cards, or hoping for a six in Catan: Junior (because a six lets you move the ghost pirate, duh.) It's becoming something of a mania with the child, and of course we want to encourage this. It's harmless, is probably honing some skill or the other, and it's good for her to learn how to lose gracefully, because if there's one thing I do not do, it's coddle the kids. Once we've put Plumpy and Mister Mint and Gramma Nut and all the other horrors back in the box, the figurative gloves come off. I may point out weaknesses in the defense... for a little while. I do not play Daddy's Little Princess checkers. You want non-competitive? Do a jigsaw puzzle (though I get the last piece.)
So not only has the youngest been playing ever single game she can get her hands upon, and asking about those she can't (Monopoly, garrrrgh), but she is completely kicking my ass. Either the dice hate me, or she's skimming from the bank when I'm not looking, or she's genuinely, actually good. Is it possible to be a prodigy at Uno? Any scholarship opportunities in this? I'm asking for a friend.
I'm not even talking about video games, where my dwindling reflexes and Lack of Caring render me helpless to all three of my spawn. (Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, I'm looking at you.) I'm being outclassed and outgunned by a person still waiting for her permanent molars to come in. She's learned a victory dance from her mother. It's brief, but it stings, oh, how it stings.
I couldn't be more proud.